Spiral: From the Book of Saw has the honor of being the first film screened for San Diego critics since Covid-19 forced theaters to close and critics to rely on streaming links or DVDs. Being back in a theater along with a socially distanced, mask-wearing group of about 10 people felt so incredibly normal that even if Spiral sucked it would have been worth sitting through the screening.
Fortunately, Spiral doesn’t suck. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from an entry in the Saw franchise. I’ll admit I had higher hopes than I should have, given the pedigree of its cast. I, quite wrongfully, assumed this addition to the franchise would be a little more arty/cerebral than its predecessors. I was dead wrong.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw isn’t a distant cousin of the disturbing horror franchise. It’s a gory bloodfest full of horrifying traps that result in the detachment of multiple body parts from those unfortunate enough to be targeted by a Jigsaw-inspired killer. In other words, it has everything a Saw fan demands plus the added bonus of an outstanding lead performance by an award-winning big-name actor.
The film focuses on Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), a cop who’s deeply disliked by his fellow officers for turning in his corrupt partner. Zeke’s assigned William Schenk (Max Minghella) to train, and William’s eager to learn and unaffected by the level of hatred aimed at Zeke. William seems like a straight shooter, the sort of detective you’d want backing you up if you were hunting down a twisted killer.
Captain Angie Garza (Riverdale’s Marisol Nichols) allows Zeke to head up the investigation, and bloody parts begin showing up along with messages confirming why the killer’s out for cop blood.
Zeke initially reluctantly accepts having to hang with this newbie, but begrudgingly grows to appreciate William’s work ethic. The fact William’s willing to dive into the investigation of a Jigsaw copycat targeting dirty cops also works in his favor in winning over Zeke.
The bodies pile up, Zeke’s intimate circle is threatened, and the killer (complete with a grotesque pig-headed puppet) seems to be able to get to anyone at any time. Zeke’s forced to consider all options in order to put a stop to the slaughter of dirty cops.
While Chris Rock might not be the first actor that pops into mind when you consider casting a Saw film (given he’s not usually associated with the genre), he’s actually the perfect choice. Rock isn’t merely a fan of the Saw film franchise. Darren Lynn Bousman – director of Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, and Spiral – describes the Emmy winner as a “true connoisseur” of the franchise.
Spiral exists because Rock expressed his desire to be part of a new chapter in the Saw saga. His love of the franchise is obvious in his performance and his character fits snugly in the world of Saw protagonists. Jigsaw screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger took advantage of Rock’s timing and delivery to incorporate a good deal of dark humor, yet Rock never winks or plays Zeke as anything less than a time-hardened detective dedicated to his profession.
Spiral’s R rating is well deserved and the traps were equally as terrifying and disturbing as any in previous Saw films. I’m estimating I watched 30% of the nasty kills with my hands in front of my face. (Why does that work? You still see what’s happening on screen but through a curtain of fingers.) You’d think by the ninth film of the franchise coming up with unique methods of torturing/mutilating victims would be difficult and the shock factor would lessen. Spiral affirms there’s no shortage of twisted minds behind the camera capable of delivering horrifying images on screen.
MPAA Rating: R for grisly bloody violence, brief drug use, pervasive language, some sexual references, and torture
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Release Date: May 14, 2021
Cast: Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisol Nichols, Richard Zeppieri, Edie Inksetter, Morgan David Jones, and Dan Petronijevic